The latest star ratings on CMS’ Home Health Compare website were released in mid-April, and the news was great for more agencies. The number of home health agencies that received a 5-star Quality of Care rating from CMS increased from 4 percent to 5 percent, and the number of agencies with a 4.5-star rating jumped from 10 to 12 percent.
While CMS notes that the average HHA rating remains 3.5 stars, thanks to the fact that agencies are rated on a curve that ensures that majority will fall in the mid-level rankings, the fact that so many agencies have improved their performance is good news. The latest rankings were based on eight measures of care quality, including initiated patient care in a timely manner, provided patient/caregiver drug education on all medications, improvement in walking or moving around, getting in and out of bed and bathing themselves, improved pain management, less shortness of breath, and reduced acute care hospitalization. This was the first quarter in which flu vaccinations were not included in the star ratings. While that measure is still included in the overall quality measures for an HHA, it’s no longer used as a factor in star ratings.
Overall, CMS reports that several individual measures saw significant improvement from January to April. Improvement in bed transfers increased by 1.3 percent, while improvement in medication management and shortness of breath each improved by 1 percent. However, the number of acute hospitalizations also increased during this time, rising by 0.1 percent. Home health experts attribute this uptick to a flu season that was more severe than usual, which led to many older people, especially those with chronic conditions, to be hospitalized. Only time will tell if this is the actual cause, and the increase in hospitalizations was only a short-term trend.
Getting Your Agency to 5-Star Status
Again, while the CMS star ranking system is based on a curve that prevents all agencies from achieving 5-star status, that doesn’t mean that your agency should not strive to achieve this designation. Many consumers use the Home Health Compare website to evaluate potential services for themselves or a loved one, and despite concerns from the home health industry, they may not understand that a 3 or 3.5-star rating is still an indication of quality.
With that in mind, there are some steps you can take as an agency to improve the likelihood of achieving the highest rating.
Embrace technology. With the amount of documentation and data required in healthcare today, if you haven’t fully embraced technology, you are only holding your agency back from excellence. Not only does full-featured home health software streamline processes and allow for the creation of efficient workflows, saving time and reducing errors, technology can also allow for real time updates on patients and allow you to identify issues that could be detrimental to positive outcomes.
Ditch the paperwork. Embracing technology requires that you stop drowning in paper and embrace tools that make your job easier. Say goodbye to clipboards and paper forms that need to be transcribed, and adopt tablets instead, that providers can use to provide real-time updates to patient condition. Getting rid of the paper also streamlines reporting, ensuring that CMS has the most accurate and up-to-date data to use when evaluating your agency.
Implement measurement tools. If you aren’t measuring the performance of your tools and outcomes, how will you ever know what needs improvement? Your agency needs to be setting specific, measurable goals and monitoring progress toward them in order to identify those areas that need improvement and develop effective plans for making those improvements.
Support better communication. Implement a communication protocol that includes a plan for communicating with doctors, patients, and other caregivers. Encourage continuous feedback, and act on that feedback. Communication breakdowns are a prime contributor to poor outcomes, so make communication a priority to improve the quality of care.
Work on one measure at a time. Earning a 5-star rating requires a high level of performance across the board, but it’s not advisable for your agency to work on improving all of the measures at once. Rather, choose a specific measure on which to improve, and wait until your plans are showing improvement before moving on to the next measure. This ensures that your efforts are not disjointed or overwhelming, and that you can clearly define the tactics that are working and what’s not.
Achieving a 5-star rating isn’t simple, but by taking a close look at how you manage your agency and use the tools and data at your disposal, you can make improvements that will not only help you reach that goal, but also improve the overall management of your agency and the quality of care you provide to patients. To learn more about software tools that can help with this, click here to check out Complia Health’s products.